You Can Unlock Your Cell Phone, Finally

Photo (cc) by Robert Scoble

If you love your AT&T phone, but you want to swap to Verizon or T-Mobile service, you’re in luck. Wireless carriers have adopted policies requiring them to unlock your phone so you can switch carriers. Of course, there are certain conditions that apply, but it’s still a win for consumers.

Until now, cell phones have been “locked” into certain carriers, so consumers were required to stay with the carrier for their contract term.

After years of “back-and-forth legal limbo,” cell phone unlocking in the United States became legal last year, and the new unlocking standards fully came into effect Feb. 11, Consumerist reports. Now, if you own your phone outright, don’t owe the wireless company any money, and your contract is complete, you are eligible to have your phone unlocked.

If your contract isn’t complete, you can potentially pay an early termination fee to switch carriers. But be careful, Consumer Affairs warns.

You may want to think twice about this. You don’t want to go to a lot of trouble and expense dumping Carrier A only to find that other carriers don’t work well in your location either, a not uncommon condition.

Each carrier has its own unlocking policies.

  • AT&T. “AT&T will unlock both prepaid and traditional post-paid phones, but prepaid customers must have had their devices for at least six months,” Consumerist said. Click here to request that AT&T unlock your phone.
  • T-Mobile. T-Mobile limits the number of unlocks per line to two a year. In addition, the phone must be in active use for at least 40 days. Click here for more information.
  • Sprint. If you’re a Sprint customer, you may have difficulty getting your phone unlocked because Sprint uses a CDMA network for its phones, which isn’t compatible with other carriers’ GSM networks. Click here for Sprint’s unlocking policy.
  • Verizon. Unlike the other three carriers, nearly all of Verizon’s phones come unlocked. Verizon’s policy states the only phones that are locked are the non-iPhone Global Ready 3G phones and the 3G Phone-in-the-Box Prepaid phones.

Other carriers, including Bluegrass Cellular, Cellcom, and U.S. Cellular have also agreed to the unlocking policy.

Check out the FCC’s guide to unlocking your wireless device and its cell phone unlocking FAQs.

Do you plan on taking advantage of the wireless carriers’ new unlocking policies with your own phone? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

While we’re on the subject of mobile phones, watch this video to learn how to save on a smartphone purchase.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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